Nearly ten years ago, my first trip to Europe included a visit to Dachau, a once functioning concentration camp, now a Holocaust memorial. At that age, I had only read about the Holocaust in Eli Wiesel’s Night, The Diary of Anne Frank and our watered-down explanations in history books. Walking into a place where you know some of the darkest hours of mankind have taken place is horribly indescribable. Before exploring the grounds, I remember a large exhibit of photos of the camp during operation, many very graphic. I tried not to show it, but there were moments where my stomach felt heavy, my head light and my legs were nothing but splintering toothpicks. As I explored under a blue sky and healthy green trees in the distance, all I could see where those shades of gray photos. The grounds were clear, incinerators clean of ash and memorials were inserted, but I could see what those places had once held. I was standing where countless innocent people had been murdered and disposed of with no remorse. Few experiences in my life have ever been so somber and left me with so many nightmares. Schindler’s List is as close as I dare to get to reliving that visit to Dachau.
It’s amazing how Steven Spieldberg has the ability to finely tune into our emotions. From the red-blooded excitement in Raiders of the Lost Ark to the wonder, magic and childhood fantasy of E.T. And then there is the bleak sorrow and heavy burden of Schindler’s List, one of the few movies on this blog I will refuse to watch alone. I put it off for two days, knowing the depressive state I would be in the day after. It is upon me now, shoulders tense, brain fuzzy and eyes drooping over the mix of lack of sleep and nightmares. I’m begging myself to drag these words out of me, put this film behind me and try not to dwell upon one of the most vile moments in humanity.
Ralph Fiennes plays Amon Goeth, one of the most shocking representations of a human being I’ve seen on film. He’s an SS officer who lives in a mansion overlooking the work camp. There he lives with his young Jewish maid, Helen (Embeth Davidtz), who rightly fears him. It is disgusting how he enjoys killing. In one scene, we see Amon shirtless, shooting any Jew still enough, like target practice, on his balcony. Helen, who’s naked in the bed behind him is appalled, “Oh God, not again.” When he’s had his fill of shooting, he strolls over to the toilet and takes a piss with the door wide open. He has no descentcy in any sense. In another scene, we’re shown how he will line men up and just start shooting every other man.
Personally, I would not be able to justify this film being in color. In my visit to Dachau, I had never seen Schinder’s List and yet, I too was seeing a black and white world. There are a few instances of color in the bulk of the film: the flame of a candle lit for the Sabath and a little girl wearing a red coat. We see her when Oskar first witnesses Nazi’s ruthlessly murdering people in the ghetto. This is happening all around the girl, yet she seems to stroll through innocently. I’ve heard numerous ideas on the red girl’s symbolism and have read that she is based on a true story. What I felt was that her fate was the shift in Oskar’s casually letting Jews work for him, to making sure to save as many as possible.
The thing I have to remember, is that while Schindler’s List holds nothing back when portraying the ruthless horrors of the holocaust, it is a story of hope and how one man gave and risked everything to save over a thousand lives. Liam Neeson portrays Oskar Schindler, who in the film is has just as much intelligence as integrity. He is a German businessman, a member of the Nazi party and a good man. The end of the film, we are shown the surviving Schindlerjuden visiting Oskar’s grave and given statistics on how the people he saved have populated in comparison to Holocaust survivors in Poland. The figures are astounding.
While I do not enjoy watching Schindler’s List, just as I didn’t enjoy visiting Dachau, I feel that it is a good experience. This is one of those films that every good human being should see. The Holocaust cannot just be swept away and the least Spielberg could do to honor the memory of over six million victims is to make a movie about their story. The least you can do is watch it.
“There will be generations because of what you did.”